Data is not a fixed given but is itself created and shaped to make knowledge. The forms that transmit knowledge also create and shape it. Now that electronic media are established alongside paper, we can see how each form gives a certain character to archeological knowledge both inside a specialist community and out to a wider public. So we can begin to plan for the mixed-media future in which the Society for American Archaeology’s own publishing will have a role.
If the book is the standard or “pure” printed medium, then the Internet is at the other pole — the electronic medium least like print. The CD is an intermediate form, sharing features with both. A CD resembles a book in that it is centrally manufactured, physically distributed and purchased by the user. Yet, like the Internet, it is electronic and potentially interactive. So I address here the two poles — the printed book and the World Wide Web — rather than the CD medium in between.
Skeuomorphs: From Old Forms to New
Archeologists know about skeuomorphs — the tendency for objects made of one physical material to mimic the forms fitting to another — from their own specialized studies. One context for skeuomorphs is the introduction of a new material or a new technology, which characteristically mimics a pre-existing form until such time as its own character emerges. So it was that early ceramics often follow the baggy shapes of leather or basketry containers and early railroad cars repeat the designs of the stagecoaches.
Electronic publishing is repeating this tendency. The Web unit is called the “page” — although the technological cause for print to be organized in pages is the medium of folded paper sheets with constraints which do not apply to electronics. PC operating systems mimic a paper office, with a “desktop” and “documents” stored in “files” grouped together within “folders.” These helpful paper and print analogies are damaging since they fail to match the different structures of the electronic world.1 The varied material on a CD or a Web page has no simple linear order as a book does, but more likely follows the pattern of a branching tree. The convention is emerging of either a table of contents on the model of a book — or a fuller set of conventional front matter2 — or of a site- map to show what is there. Against this is the ideal of a Web site, Ruth Tringham’s Chimera Web3 — which does not so much guide you in a specific direction as try to help you explore an unknown.
Novel4 electronic forms are now emerging. One is the “webcam,” the online camera reporting activity from some remote place. Matthew Spriggs attempted an archeological example in 19985 to report an excavation on a remote Pacific island each day to his students back home at the Australian National University.
Skeuomorphs resolve themselves as it becomes clear what is more genuinely novel — as a webcam appears to be — and what closely follows an existing form. One sees this in the electronic journals like Electronic Antiquity and Internet Archaeology6 as they decide how much to create an electronic simulacrum of a paper journal, differing only in its means of transmission, and how much to change the form. Novelty has its risk. Internet Archaeology emphasizes its commitment to the virtues of print journals alongside its wish to develop novel elements unique to electronic formats. One can easily and repeatedly update an electronic publication or append readers’ responses in a way that cannot be matched by revised editions of a paper book or article. At the same time, some old issues are fundamental to publishing — and to knowledge! — such as the question of quality control; these will endure.
An instance in which an old form is adapted to a new medium is the moderated discussion forum — such as AegeaNet,7 which resembles the standard newspaper or magazine formula of “letters to the editor” — where new issues are raised or old ones revisited in a supervised forum with a controller who decides what will and what will not be accepted for publication. An instance of a decisive difference between old and new forms is the perception that paper publishing is expensive and electronic publishing is cheap. This belief is related to the fact that print publishing is usually done by a third party, while much electronic work is self-published by authors.
Costs: Actual and Perceived
Although the costs of carrying out some academic research, and then of publishing it, can be calculated with some precision, there is enormous variation in how these costs are met and how they are therefore seen by the ultimate customer — the individual who acquires knowledge.
First, what matters is more the perception of cost than the reality. The key decider becomes bookkeeping rules of who pays for what. Browsing a colleague’s office shelves recently, I was struck by how few of the books were new. He explained, “I don’t pay for books any more — I just photocopy what I need.” As he experiences it, photocopied materials — or materials printed from a Web file — are free whereas books are expensive. A publisher’s editor, knowing the fixed costs that have to be recovered by selling sufficient copies, will scarcely agree.
Photocopying is a simple instance of deceptive perceived costs. A university teacher can buy a book for a certain number of dollars or request the library to buy it; that price consolidates the varied expenses involved in making the book. Once the book is by some means to hand, it can be reproduced “free”8 by the professor because the many costs involved are scattered between several places. Costs incurred by the university department are hidden in other bills — capital cost of the photocopier, maintenance, toner, paper — which are treated as overheads. If the professor himself stands over the machine to photocopy it, there is another cost, that of his time; at $40 an hour and more, that is not a trivial amount in relation to the price of the book. Against that example, however, is the experience of those university presses like University of Arizona, which have tried putting whole books up on Web pages. This permits a would-be reader to print out the entire volume with — if in a typically indulgent university department — no perceived cost. But Arizona finds that the availability helps rather than reduces sales of the printed book.9 Readers, it seems, are enticed by what they see on screen, or by the fragments they print out, to the point that more of them purchase the book.
Second, the conventional charging of academic work and of academic publications is itself a partial account of the actual costs involved. Consider a substantial field research project, one having the general character of the many campaigns conducted in the eastern Sahara by Fred Wendorf and colleagues, or a major single excavation such as Franchthi Cave, Greece — published largely as a collected set of “fascicles,” each a volume on one aspect of the excavation and the material.
The knowledge generated by projects of this nature is made available as printed books to which electronic publication on the Web is a potential alternative. How do the two media compare?
The major cost is the research itself and within that research cost the major element will be labor. But most of that labor cost is not charged to the project. It is instead supplied by the universities paying the salaries of the professor who carries out the research and by individual students and associates who work without charge — or, by their course fees, actually pay to work
— or who work for much less than market rates. Universities, in providing laboratories, also pay much of the immediate overhead costs of facilities — heat, light, and so on; individuals do the same when they work from home. Universities also provide the infrastructure of libraries, reference materials and so on. Research funding, from a body such as the National Science Foundation or the National Endowment for the Humanities, only pays that — often small — portion of research costs that arises as direct and specific bills — travel, accommodation, locally hired labor, working materials, shipping, the specialized advice of expert analysts and so on. Even the element of “overhead” does not often carry the full cost.
Conventionally, this framework changes when one moves on from the research itself to publication of the research results. “Gray-literature” reports often are available without fee from the publishing agency, which bears all the bills. With a commercial or quasi- commercial press, the “full costs” of the publication — editorial, overhead, sales and marketing, origination, paper, printing, binding, warehousing and distribution — are to be recovered by sales. For a non-commercial press, such as a museum monograph series, most full costs are provided for and a smaller view is taken of the allocated costs, which may be the bare manufacturing bills from the printer. Since the publications are very specialized, not many are printed and even fewer sold, so the price is often very high. Yet even high book prices do not pay for the research itself. By simple rules of supply and demand, expensive books on specialized subjects sell very few copies. The benefit of all that research work is decisively weakened at this last stage in the process, because the book is in restricted circulation. One would do better to make a nominal charge for the book and see its publication as an integrated element to the cycle of making and circulating knowledge — a cost like any other.
Before all the oddities and exceptions, the fundamental cost conventions of paper publication are these: the large research costs are not covered by book purchasers but carried in some other way by the producer; some or all of the immediate publishing costs are carried by the consumer.
Famously, the costing and business economics of the Internet are strange. Central elements, such as the software of Web browsers and e-mail components, are produced by commercial companies — yet often no charge is made for them.10 User access by Internet service providers is usually charged but may be free. A university user will usually perceive Internet access as free because the bills are covered by the institution or department, not charged to the individual.
Let us look again at the same publication of a large and specialized research report, if it instead takes the form of a Web page created in-house by the research team in a university department and hosted on its server. Much of the work is the same as for print publication, but who does it and how it is charged will vary. Peer review, revision in light of review and publisher’s opinion and advice, and copy-editing are in theory the same procedures in each case. In practice, the in-house publication is more likely to be published as written and received, with less effort being put into review and revision. Typography, design and page mark-up in print publications — invariably done by electronic methods today — have a close equivalent in electronic page design and mark-up. The work in the print version will be done by publisher and printer, and so charged, but in the electronic medium design and mark-up are done by the author — who makes no charge — or by students or assistants who are paid not at all or at less than commercial rates. Origination and proofing is cheaper for electronic media, and again the labor may not be charged. The equivalent of physically manufacturing the book is its posting on a Web page, which carries a cost — but the cost probably will not be charged or even perceived. The equivalent to distributing the physical book — moving it from bindery to customer — is dialing-up the Web site’s URL. Access is often cheaper and perceived as free and is a cost borne by the reader rather than the publisher.
Books require no equipment of the reader. Electronic publications require the reader to have equipment — CD-equipped PC, modem and telephone line, software — not usually thought of as part of the publication costs.
Even before the oddities of the Internet as a business environment are taken into account, one can notice what happens when distributed reproduction takes the place of centralized reproduction — that is, when individual users in scattered places photocopy or print material rather than receive a printed book from a central publisher. Laser output is expensive — as the work is printed one sheet at a time — by comparison with the efficiency of centralized book printing. Distribution costs are sufficiently low, given an efficient postal service, that central reproduction is cheaper overall. Although various schemes exist where a charge is made for photocopying copyright material, most photocopying is done without such payment being made, so the central indirect costs are borne by a reduced number of — in the case of a journal — paid subscriptions.
A few words are useful here about costs for CD publication. Compilation and layout of words, images and other material is comparable to creating a book to the point when it is ready to be printed. Overall fixed costs would be lower for a CD if it contained the same quantity of matter as a book. But a CD’s larger capacity – 650 MB, about 6500 text pages or 1000 color photographs – means the “typical CD” can be fatter in its content than a book – which is the attraction of the format. Much more material at rather lower unit cost means an overall greater cost.
Making the master CD and duplicating copies appears cheaper than the equivalent work of plate- making and printing, noticeably at the print runs of not many hundred which are the universal rule for specialized archeological publications.
Who pays? The University of North Carolina Press paid the basic costs of pressing CDs from master files supplied in final form by the authors. This is a decisive shift of costs from the publisher to the author.
What are the decisive points here?
- There is a change in cost structure in which
electronic is perceived as cheaper.
- There is a reduction in the role of the publisher as
the third party intermediate between author and
- There is some shift in costs from the reader towards
the author and the author does more.
- The fixed costs — those involved in creating the
“master” original — are higher if the electronic potential is taken up, while the variable costs of making each copy available to customers appear to be reduced.
Quality control will always be in relation to some perceived framework of knowledge. Some studies of the past use frameworks decidedly other than those of the academic community of research archeologists. On the Thames & Hudson list, alongside the high quality archeology books, are varied books of a mystical, “New Age” or “modern Celtic” spirit, often containing little or even false knowledge.
In the accepted framework of print publication, the author’s work is assessed by the publisher as an independent party; whether it is published and in what form follows from that judgment. Academic papers are assessed by peer review, academic books by some combination of peer review and opinion of the proposal’s commercial potential. Peer review is uneven and necessarily subjective. A reviewer may be supportive or skeptical of the merit of the research, broader- or narrower-minded in their view of what is good work, tolerant or intolerant of slips and weaknesses in detail and in presentation, or inclined to be generous or not when it comes to a proposal with middling merit. Editors and publishers are equally varied in their view. Many established presses, especially university presses, maintain a habit of demanding copy-editing. Much peer review is weak or even nominal, in that it is done by colleagues of the author who know well the work under review and its author, who are themselves researchers of the same attitude and orientation, and who approach it expecting it to be good. The set of publications in archeology which have been rigorously peer reviewed by colleagues at a distance from the work is not the same as the set of publications in archeology found good anduseful. John Maddox, whose many years at Nature make him the premier journal editor of our age, reports that after a while he stopped refereeing papers offered to Nature by the astronomer Fred Hoyle, a highly original thinker whose ideas were not well-received by colleagues in peer review. Maddox printed them anyway and does not regret that.
Although the refereeing process is intended to control quality, it also reduces quantity. Rejected papers and books are often abandoned rather than published — with or without revision — in another place.
Alongside peer review is editorial evaluation, what can properly be called “news values.” As I write, on 27 January 1999, the day’s national newspapers report the events of high importance — the next step in the Presidential impeachment, Pope John-Paul’s visit to St. Louis, the continuing fears for the impact of “Y2K” on computer systems. Other events of yesterday, from the minor collision on Temple Street in Salt Lake City to the present author’s research seminar offered to colleagues at the University of Utah, are rightly overlooked. Explicitly or implicitly, academic publications also work by news values.
Consider Journal of Archaeological Science and American Anthropologist, both journals of established reputation — Journal of Archaeological Science published commercially by Academic Press, American Anthropologist by the professional non-profit association. Yet Journal of Archaeological Science (editor Richard Klein) and American Anthropologist (when edited by Dennis and Barbara Tedlock) held to such different paradigms — “news values” in my terms — as to what kind of work was of merit that it is hard to think of a paper published in one which could equally have been published in the other. This is acceptable, even valuable, because the research community that reads the journals knows and understands these values. That community is also aware that the values change, although abrupt shifts confuse. Whatever the merits of any emphasis, a chopping-about of editorial values confuses readers because it perturbs their understanding of where the journal stands in the intellectual landscape of the discipline.
All researchers in a field are aware of the varied reputations, standards and attitudes of the journals and publishers. Learning the shapes of this “publishing landscape” is a key skill the novice researcher acquires. So is learning to notice the clues, large and small, that increase or reduce a reader’s confidence in the quality of what they are reading.
So the mechanisms of quality control are variable and inconsistent in print publication, because there is neither objective and absolute value, nor some threshold to divide simply the good from the bad. Peer review is only part of the story. Some dogs of papers and books are published by imprints that should know better! Equally, some papers and books subsequently considered significant have been published in obscure or unexpected places because the mainstream rejected them. Imprints which are too zealous in peer review may find themselves squeezing the originality out of their contributions, so one arrives at a published text which is safe but contributes little new. What remains the case is that the author must either persuade a third party — or parties — of the merit of their work or the author must fund publication themselves, knowing that the absence of third-party independence and the bad reputation of “vanity publications” may poison expectations.
In contrast with print, the Web operates through a routine of self-publication. The analogue of the print publisher might be the service provider who hosts a Web page; but Internet service providers have little concern with what is on their servers beyond a minimal interest in its being legal or decent. So there is no system of third-party control, no distanced judgment of merit and quality, no independent editor to cut and to shape and to resist the author’s inclination to write yet more words in yet slacker prose. On the Web, in fact, there is no boundary of the kind that separates and distances the extremes of formal publication and passing gossip. The clues of format and visual presentation that help the reader of the printed media to sense the standing of any one printed work only weakly apply to the Web, where the most accomplished design may be the medium carrying the gossip and the self- indulgent fantasy. A free-speech ethic and habit coupled with the lack of controls results in copyright not being an actual restriction on the re-use of material.
Given these freedoms, I am astonished by how good the stuff on the Web is, how evident is the care taken to get things right and how much good archeological material is available.11 Ancient Egypt, for centuries such a field for historical speculation and fantasy, is a striking instance where the orthodox archeology shades off into other visions in a way hard to navigate.12
A likely way forward will be developing structures within the Internet that will make the standing of the site clear. A print publisher of good reputation will be an indicator of a certain quality when it issues a digital publication — such as Oxford University Press’s online journals. But it also will be the case that some personal Web pages will earn good reputations without such external validation — as has been the case in the print. In its time, I.F. Stone’s Weekly — the little self- published weekly report and commentary on public affairs in the nation’s capital — had an authority not to be dismissed. “With a few exceptions every issue of the paper was written, from cover to cover, by I.F. Stone himself.”13
I introduced this section of my essay with the words “quality control,” for that is the term by which these issues are being noticed. I prefer a broader term, such as the “topography of knowledge” to indicate that wider set of issues and judgments within which any measure of quality is set.
A distinctive feature of the new topography of electronic media is an atomization of knowledge — that is, a willingness to treat knowledge as an accumulation of facts piled together rather than as a synthetic understanding beyond the sum of its component fragments. Much print publication is some kind of accumulation. An academic journal, like a newspaper, is a miscellany of varied reports on varied subjects within some defined field. Electronic media are even more varied and this has consequences.
Behind every factual statement, however straightforward and objective it may seem, are disputable judgments. The population of the United States, my atlas says, is 241,596,000 — to the nearest thousand. Beyond the obvious qualifiers — such as the date of the statistic — there are some less obvious ones. Are US citizens permanently abroad included? Are US citizens temporarily abroad at some defining census date included? Are foreign citizens permanently resident in the US included? Are foreign citizens temporarily in the US included? How many individuals are omitted from counts? The numbers of those of uncertain status are so large, despite a professional census bureau aware of the complications, that the proper counting of the number of people in the United States is a recurrent subject of dispute and litigation.
A central issue — or the central issue — in archeological method is that of the “middle range” in formation processes;14 what is the relationship that links those physical objects that we can observe and measure to the human beings and social entities that an anthropological archeology seeks to study. Every archeological observation comes, or should come, with a sense of fuzziness, whether the list of major settlements of the Maya realm or the counts of different tool types in a stratum at an impeccably excavated French Palaeolithic site. Just one class of archeological observations, the radiocarbon date, routinely is reported with its measure of uncertainty. In truth, uncertainty is attached to every radiocarbon date even beyond what is expressed by its standard deviation and uncertainties surround and cloud most archeological observations, however neutral or objective they appear. Each statement depends on definitions — what is a “flake,” a “blade,” a “core,” a “piece of debitage” in stone- working? — on sampling, on the hazards of taphonomy and on what the observer chooses or chances to observe.
Central to this tendency is the word “data,” a short and everyday word whose dangers we overlook. “Data” derives from the Latin “datum,” meaning “that which has been given.” But data are not given, certainly not in archeology. Rather they have been captured, by some effort of studied observation. For this reason I rarely use the word “data” and prefer instead the unused word “capta,” which better expresses the truth. We go out in search of facts pertinent to some research interest, and seek to capture them — but we may come back with nothing at all or with observed facts unrelated to our research interest. “Capta” reminds one of that real uncertainty.
Many of the remarks in this essay concern the context of knowledge. Electronic media promise, and already deliver, vastly more facts and factoids — a more contestable and uncertain statement which is nevertheless presented and treated as if an undisputed fact. In principle, the same conditions apply to printed and to electronic media. But both the technology and the emerging habits of electronic knowledge promote a “cut or copy and paste” spirit, in which the context and conditions on which the data depend are speedily lost.
An incentive, noted above, for publishing electronically is that more data can be released. Further, because those data can be copied and manipulated with a few clicks of the mouse, they are more accessible for new study and new interpretation than are printed lists and tabulations, which have to be laboriously re-keyed or scanned. But are those data truly independent of the theses developed in the synthetic portion of the study? How much can they indeed be treated as not subordinate? Here the reciprocal relationship of theory to data comes into play, in which the theory depends on the data, and the data depend on the theory. No empirical rep — certainly no archeological report from the field, the lab or the museum — is a complete or an objective report. Rather, it is a necessarily selective set of observations — those pertinent to the subject of study. Aldenderfer15 notes a telling case in this respect. Hill’s celebrated and influential study of the Broken K Pueblo site16 was a landmark in developing a self- consciously scientific “New Archaeology.” In the modern monograph mode, it presents a mass of supporting data. A re-analysis taking a different approach could — just! — be done17 by manipulating and re-interpreting those published data. However, in order to compare results properly, Lischka secured from Hill copies of his original data-runs, records more primary than what was published. Dillehay’s recent two volumes on Monte Verde18 — with their many pages, many tables, and many illustrations — present a great quantity of observations and analyses. But their purpose is to demonstrate what was observed and the logical means by which a particular synthesis was made of the Monte Verde evidence. The synthesis depends on what existed at the site, but it also depends on what Dillehay’s team chose to recover, record and study and by what means and within what frameworks of ideas.
Knowing that data are not in a simple way either independent of or dependent on theory, the present writer does not welcome the atomizing of knowledge or the increasing removal of the data from the conditions under which they were created. The new Archaeology Data Service19 now asks British
researchers in receipt of funding from the Humanities Research Board to lodge their “data-sets” with the service for other researchers to use. This would ease the tiresome duplication of work that arises when one researcher recapitulates what another researcher has done, but it would also lead to error whenever the context for that data was not properly taken into account.
Like others contributing to this SAA session, I have benefited from a January 1999 meeting called by the “Digital Imprint”, the project directed by Louie Krasniewicz at UCLA, to develop electronic publishing in archeology. I thank the Digital Imprint team and other colleagues attending.
1. Nat Tunbridge, “The Human Touch,” New Scientist 161.2170 (1999): 34–37.
2. R.P. Stephen Davis Jr. et al., eds., Excavating Occaneechi Town: archaeology of an eighteenth- century Indian village in North Carolina [CD]. (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1997).
4. Nothing is wholly novel. This is, seen another way, a live long-distance TV transmission of the kind which has been routine for half a century; it differs in the way the viewer accesses it.
5. Matthew Spriggs. Pacific Archaeology Teaching Project 1998. 1998. .
6. Mike Heyworth et al., “Internet Archaeology: a Quality Electronic Journal,” Antiquity 71.274 (1997): 1039–1042, .
7. John G. Younger, 1997. “Managing ‘AegeaNet’,” Antiquity 71.274: 1052–1054 .
8. Various rules and schemes exist to discourage photocopying or to make a charge to the user that is returned to the author/publisher of the material copied. The policing rules are not rigorous. Much of the funds generated in payment for photocopying is consumed by administering the charging schemes. Many academic authors, who want their work to be noticed and read, are content for it to be disseminated by photocopies, since
the income they receive from licit copies is slight or zero.
9. Chris Szuter, personal communication.
10. So programs like the Netscape browser and Eudora e-mailer are free to many users in their standard form. Their proprietors survive commercially by charging for elaborated versions and ancillary software. Also, Internet software is central to the competition between Microsoft and other software companies who may cross-subsidize from other business.
11. Sara Champion, “Archaeology on the World Wide Web: User’s Field-guide,” Antiquity 71.274 (1997): 1027–1038 .
12. Lynn Meskell, “Electronic Egypt: The Shape of Archaeological Knowledge on the Net,” Antiquity 71.274 (1997): 1063–1076 .
13. Neil Middleton, The Best of ‘I.F. Stone’s Weekly’: Pages from a Radical Newspaper (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1973).
14. Michael B. Schiffer, Formation Processes of the Archaeological Record (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1987).
15. Mark Aldenderfer, “The Printed Monograph: History of a Class of Archeological Publication” (Unpublished paper given at the Digital Imprint meeting, UCLA, January 1999).
16. James N. Hill, Broken K Pueblo: Prehistoric Social Organization in the American Southwest (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, Anthropological Papers of the University of Arizona, 1970), 18.
17. Joseph J. Lischka, “Broken K Revisited: A Short Discussion of Factor Analysis,” American Antiquity 40 (1975): 220-227.
18. Tom D. Dillehay, Monte Verde: A Late Pleistocene Settlement in Chile 1: Paleo-environment and Site Context (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1989).
Tom D. Dillehay, Monte Verde: A Late Pleistocene Settlement in Chile 2: The Archaeological Context and Interpretation (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1997).
19. Julian D. Richards, “Preservation and Re-use of Digital Data: The Role of the Archaeology Data Service,” Antiquity 71.274 (1997): 1057–1059.